Cheese & Pregnancy
Women can still eat cheese safely during pregnancy.
However, they should avoid fresh, soft, semi-soft and blue cheeses, which may contain Listeria Monocytogenes. It is this bacterium that presents a risk, rather than raw or other unpasteurised milks.
Hard, low moisture cheeses, such as Cheddar, Gruyère or Parmesan, are a hostile environment for Listeria monocytogenes, and are perfectly safe to eat, whether they are made with pasteurised or raw milk.
The risk in softer, mould ripened cheeses is the potential for the presence of Listeria Monocytogenes, a bacterium causing Listeriosis. Listeria does not occur naturally in milk or cheese; instead, its presence indicates contamination of either the raw material (milk) or environment (cheesemaking equipment or ripening areas).
We take all due care to ensure our cheeses meet uncompromising safety standards to minimise this risk, but we would advise pregnant or immunocompromised customers as follows:
The best way to eat cheese safely during pregnancy is to avoid cheeses in which Listeria can grow. Whether or not the cheese is pasteurised or raw is not a relevant factor because contamination may occur after the point of pasteurisation, for example, through environmental contamination.
- Listeria grows in high-moisture, low acidity cheeses and for this reason pregnant women should avoid soft (e.g. soft goat, Brie-style, washed-rind) semi-soft (e.g. territorial cheeses: which are fairly high-moisture and young) and mould-ripened (e.g. blue) cheeses.
- Hard, aged cheeses (which conversely are low-moisture, high acidity) are environments hostile to Listeria and safe to eat. (The NHS is in agreement on this, where ‘all hard cheeses are safe in pregnancy’).
- Cheese rinds pose a higher risk because a) Listeria tends to grow better in a rind environment b) it is the point at which the cheese is exposed to any potential environmental contamination. We advise pregnant women not to eat the cheese rind, even on hard cheeses.
NHS guidance on cheese in pregnancy differs from our position at times in considering some soft or blue cheese safe for consumption according to certain criteria. We would recommend neither soft nor blue cheese for the reasons above.
All of the following cheeses constitute examples of cheese which meet both our and NHS criteria for safe consumption in pregnancy:
- Ossau Iraty
As a general guideline, we consider an ‘aged’, and therefore ‘safe to eat’, cheese to be at a maturity of a minimum of six months.
Pregnant women, immunocompromised individuals, the very young, and the elderly are more susceptible to organisms that can grow in soft or un-aged cheeses.
In addition to following the guidelines above, we advise people in these groups to avoid raw non-cheese dairy (e.g. raw cream, butter or milk): this is the equivalent of the ultimate high moisture, low acidity soft cheese (which should be avoided as above).
Pasteurised milk and dairy products are low risk: if they are bottled/contained immediately, the risk of any post-pasteurisation contamination is very low. Crème fraiche, yoghurt and sour cream are good choices because of their high acidity.
Blue veins in a cheddar are still low risk (this remains an aged, low moisture, high acidity cheese) but to err on the side of most caution, pregnant women should avoid eating the blue (and the same for wet spots).
Breastfeeding and cheese: there does not appear to be a conclusive/final picture on the migration of pathogens from mother to infant via breastfeeding. From our perspective, any risk is slight; but we can’t offer medical advice on this.
If you have a question that we haven’t been able to answer here, then we would be very happy to hear from you. You can either send us an e-mail here or call us on (020) 7730 2088.